Jan. 23 (UPI) — The number of new cases of COVID-19 has fallen over the last two weeks, but public health officials worry new variants could erase progress and multiple local health agencies are cancelling vaccination appointments amid concerns about supply.
New COVID-19 cases have fallen 21 percent in the last two weeks, according to the New York Times’ coronavirus tracker, and hospitalizations have followed suit.
But public health experts worry that the spread of new, more contagious variants of the virus could undo progress in containing the virus, and current models say the death count — which exceeds the grimmest predictions of last spring — will continue an upward climb in the coming weeks.
“We’re definitely on a downward slope, but I’m worried that the new variants will throw us a curveball in late February or March,” said Caitlin M. Rivers, an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
President Joe Biden predicted Friday that the U.S. death toll would top 500,0000 next month and could exceed 600,000, and the Centers for Disease Control projected a death toll of about half a million by the middle of February.
“The virus is surging. We’re 400,000 dead, expected to reach well over 600,000,” Biden said Friday. “No matter how you look at it, we need to act.”
The United States had logged 416,289 COVID-19 deaths as of Friday, according to Johns Hopkins University’s coronavirus tracker.
Earlier this week the U.S. cleared more than 400,000 deaths, and the CDC’s aggregate projection suggests another 100,000 Americans could die before Valentine’s Day, with the model ranging from a predicted 465,000 to 585,000 deaths by Feb. 13.
Those numbers far exceed early projections of 100,000 to 240,000 total deaths.
Both New York state and New York City have run completely dry of COVID-19 vaccines, and public health officials in Louisiana and Virginia have announced they are canceling or rescheduling first-dose vaccine appointments.
In Louisiana and New York, officials are canceling appointments due to a lack of vaccine supply, where public health officials in Virginia say the supply of vaccines has dropped below the number of doses ordered but also that the state has changed the way it is distributing vaccine doses — with local health departments receiving the vaccine directly rather than the state sending doses to hospitals.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the administration opened up too many categories of eligibility too quickly without adding a corresponding increase in supply.
“It should have been opened as you had allocation. Anyway, that is not what we did, it’s not what they did. And now you have a period of confusion and anxiety because you’re trying to hit seven million people at 250,000 a week,” Cuomo said.